Who Is Lucy the Australopithecus? 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Lucy the Australopithecus History

A sculptor’s rendering of what Lucy might have looked like. (Getty)

It’s time to celebrate evolution, discovery and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” On November 24, Lucy the Australopithecus turns 41 and to celebrate the good folks at Google have created a doodle in her honor. She’s the collection of hundred of bones that were assembled by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in Ethiopia in 1974. What makes Lucy stand out amid the thousands of fossils that are discovered every day, scientists were able to practically reassemble her entire skeleton. She helped immensely in furthering our understanding of evolution and “the missing link.” Lucy is thought to be 3.2 million years old.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. In Celebration of When She Was Found, Archeologists Repeatedly Played the Beatles’ Song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ at the Scene

Upon the discovery of Lucy’s fossils, members of Donald Johanson’s team were playing the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Johanson told Time Magazine in 2009:

Yes, the whole camp was listening to Beatles’ tape because I was a great Beatles fan, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was playing and this girl said, well if you think the fossil was a female, why don’t you name her Lucy? Initially I was opposed to giving her a cute little name, but that name stuck.

He later told the BBC, that in giving her such a name “she became a person.”

2. She Was Found During a ‘Spur of the Moment’ Digging

Donald Johanson Wikipedia page

Lucy’s discoverer Donald Johanson. (Wikipedia)

In an interview with the Scientific American, Donald Johanson said that he “wasn’t particularly keen” on digging on the fateful morning in 1974 when Lucy was discovered. He was coaxed into going out by a graduate student, named Tom Gray, who wanted to properly map an area their party had already excavated in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Johanson says:

So we went back to the site, up on a little plateau, and marked the locality. And then we walked around and we looked for fossils. I always keep my eyes on the ground–that’s the only way you find things there. Tom was on my left side, and I glanced over my right shoulder and saw this perfectly preserved elbow end of a forearm bone, the ulna.

I considered whether it could have been a monkey elbow-we had found fossils of baboons, colobus and other monkeys in the region–but it didn’t have the extended flare on the back of it that monkey elbows have. I knew it was a hominin elbow.

During a separate interview with the Academy of Achievement in 1991 Johanson said, “I am reminded of the fact that it was a moment of just absolute exhilaration. This was the most important discovery I had ever made in my life. It was a discovery which has irrevocably changed my whole life’s direction. It immediately elevated me to the status of one of the world’s important and leading anthropologists.”

3. She Was Mostly a Vegetarian

Lucy, and her contemporaries, were mostly vegetarians who fed on fruits from trees, according to a BBC profile. That piece notes that her species had begun to alter their diets slightly and were descending to the earth on a more regular basis. Prior to that, Lucy’s genus would have felt more at home in the trees. She had a cone shaped rib cage, like a gorilla or chimpanzee, which allowed for a bigger stomach.

4. Lucy & Her Contemporaries Walked Standing Up Straight

41st Anniversary of the discovery of Lucy Google Doodle

(Google Doodle)

“It was immediately apparent that Lucy walked upright” from the moment Johanson discovered her, according to the BBC. This was ascertained thanks to the positioning of her pelvis, knees and ankles. What was key about this discovery is that it corrected years of thinking that equalled walking upright to increased brainpower. Larger brain power didn’t come into effect for species such as Lucy for another million years after her death. A 2007 article in Science Mag, argued that Lucy’s ability to walk upright was born out of walking along large tree branches.

5. Her Discovery Was the Basis for a Scarlett Johansson Movie That One Critic Called ‘Mindless’

French film maker Luc Besson wrote and directed the 2014 action flop Lucy, based in part on the discovery of Lucy. During the press tour for the movie, Besson told The Australian:

I was very interested with all the science. When I learned one cell can send 1000 messages per cell per second and we have 100 billion cells in our body, for me, it’s gigantic.” He did not want to make “a documentary about the brain. That was my goal: an action film with a purpose. When I was younger, the purpose I had was smaller. Basically, this is about us, our legacy and what we learn.

The movie also features a computer rendering of Lucy. Another of its main themes is the myth that human beings only use 10 percent of their brain power. Coincidentally, the Guardian’s film critic Jordan Hoffman in his review called the movie “mindless and mixed up, but propulsive and fun.”